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Bishops discourage Catholics from receiving Johnson & Johnson vaccine if alternatives available

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops this week encouraged Catholics to choose Pfizer or Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines over Johnson & Johnson, if possible, because the latter's inoculation was developed from stem cells obtained during two abortions decades ago.

Bishop Kevin Rhoades, chairman of the conference’s Committee on Doctrine, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, chairman of the conference’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, in a Tuesday statement called on Catholics to choose Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccine over Johnson & Johnson’s, if a choice is available. 

But they added that it is “morally acceptable” for worshippers to receive any COVID-19 vaccine if no choice is available, calling getting vaccinated “an act of charity that serves the common good.” 

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Pfizer and Moderna used cell lines that originated from fetal tissue in testing of their vaccines, according to multiple reports. However, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine was developed from stem cells obtained from two abortions. 

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine became the third candidate authorized for emergency use in the U.S. earlier this month after Moderna and Pfizer’s inoculations were approved in December.

Catholic groups that oppose abortion have long criticized medical companies that use human cell lines from aborted fetuses.

Several dioceses in the U.S. have also expressed concerns over Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine.

The Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans last week called Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine “morally compromised” over its use of stem cells obtained from abortions.

The Vatican in December released guidance that it is acceptable for Catholics around the world to receive COVID-19 vaccines “that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process” when "ethically irreproachable" coronavirus vaccines are not available. 

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Pope FrancisPope FrancisPope calls for easing of tensions between Russia and Ukraine Pope Francis asks Minnesota bishop to resign following Vatican probe Biden should look to 'Ostpolitik' to negotiate with autocrats MORE and his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, both received COVID-19 vaccines last month. 

Johnson & Johnson said in a statement to The Hill, "We are able to manufacture hundreds of millions of doses using our engineered cell-line system and look forward to delivering those doses around the world and help meet the critical need." 

The statement also noted that the vaccine "uses an inactivated non-infective adenovirus vector – similar to a cold virus – that codes for the coronavirus 'spike' (S) protein" and that "there is no fetal tissue in the vaccine."

Updated: 7:25 p.m.